Andy Pollitt reflects on halcyon days with influential Australian climber Kim Carrigan, who established multiple routes Down Under and hopped across to the UK to show us how it was done in the 80s.
Indeed, 'Bruce bounces' was yet another classic Geoff Birtles 'Crags' magazine by-line with a passport-sized B&W still of Kim Carrigan – the ahead-of-his-time Australian climber at Avon, having just ticked off Bristol's hardest routes.
Now, North Wales proved a slightly more challenging proposition for the antipodean and whilst attempting the 2nd ascent of Pete Whillance's free version of Ed Drummond's Cloggy masterpiece A Midsummer Night's Dream he slipped off high on that lonely wall and waaaaay above poor protection much lower down. The story goes that Douggie Hall - belayer that day and regular climbing partner of Kim's - leapt off his belay ledge to catch some extra slack as Carrigan cartwheeled down the wall...thankfully to stop literally inches off the deck with the 'up' rope snaking skywards from between two boulders where Douggie was wedged.
It may've been this fall that caused the demise of a rusty old piton that Drummond had left above his controversial bolt runner – the only secure piece in the 80' pitch, as I don't think it was there the following year when I followed John Redhead up it on the 2nd ascent. I made the 3rd ascent the following year and revelled in every delicate move.
See, growing up in Great Britain's climbing scene as a fresh-faced schoolie in the eighties was simply amazing. I met Peter Livesey – somewhat of a 'hero' to me - at Tremadoc and he sandbagged me when I squeakily asked for any secret tricks about climbing his Zukator - an E4 6b, when I was still only falling up E3s with Jerry [Moffatt]. 'Course I fell for his ruse...then promptly fell again...the whole flippin' height of Bwlch y Moch when the gear and holds 'Petered' out. The last time I ever saw Pete (we were on 1st name terms by then) was when he served me tea and home-made buns in his quaint café in Malham village. He was wearing a little pink pinny, brought me an extra teacake over and gave me a warm, friendly wink. He remembered alright and may even have delighted in witnessing one of the biggest lobs in Welsh history! Charming fellow nonetheless.
But, Mr Carrigan. A glamorous, handsome, tanned and super-fit Aussie with arguably the world's top female climber Louise Shepherd as his partner.
Now this was real news when Kim hooked up with the then relatively unknown British climber Douggie Hall and they proceeded to kick some serious butt all over our country. They came to the Great Orme once and freed Psychic Threshold on Castell y Gwynt – a stunning 100' prow of fine limestone hanging 400' above the Irish Sea. I must admit I was slightly peeved over that as I'd only recently gotten past the aid point (and vomiting fulmar) with Dave Cowans but pumped out above on about 5a ground. Coulda, woulda, shoulda gone back, but missed the boat.
Bizarrely though, over at Pen Trwyn both these top climbers failed to repeat Mayfair – a route I had freed with Jerry some time previously - so Kim traversed right and boldly on-sighted a protectionless and rather technical groove to gain the belay. Upon abseiling off they spotted the crucial finger slot they'd missed on Mayfair then romped it home. I repeated Carrigan's Groove and it was a good climb.
Our paths next crossed on a BMC International Meet en France where I was fortunate to swing a few pitches with Kim at Le Saussois near Paris, and separately, Louise in the Verdon Gorge. It was rather warm so we all climbed topless.
So, let's ask KC about his memories of Britain first, back in the Eighties;
Kim: UK climbing had always held a fascination with me, ever since we were absolute beginners at school, Mike Law and I would read Mountain magazine under our desks and dream of repeating the exploits of derring-do of those heroes of the time: Pete Livesey, Ed Drummond and later Ron Fawcett.
Sadly the reality of turning up at Stoney Middleton in mid-November with Douggie and Lou fresh from 6 months climbing across the States, from Yosemite to Colorado to the Gunks was a dramatic let down. The cold swirling mist, the incessant thunder of quarry trucks through the dale, steaming mugs of stewed tea and the health food of a nation - a chip butty at the Stoney Cafe - did not inspire me to greatness.
Jerry mentions you and Douggie in his biography Revelations watching him attempting to free the 1st pitch of Little Plum at Stoney Middleton and how your joint presence spurred him on to pull that little bit harder and succeed.
We'd met Douggie before you see – on the stance on Void at Tremadog back when we were kids and thought resting on runners was OK as long as we did all the moves free. He was watching again as Jerry fought following me up Cream and now this was Jerry's chance to show how far he'd come in two years. Tick!
Kim: This was our first day in the Dale, and while Jerry was cranking away on Little Plum, we managed Windhover before conceding defeat and heading back to the café. Completely demoralised from this experience, Douggie headed back home to Manchester. Lou and I made a short pilgrimage to Tremadoc for Christmas before I ran out of money and Lou decided Joshua Tree over winter was way more attractive than miserable weather, smoky pubs and a lack of vegetables.
Four months working in London at Alpine Sports and surviving a Baron's Court bed-sit was almost too much. Our room was so crowded with furniture that we stayed fit by moving it every night on arrival home, into the passage outside and pushing it back inside in the morning before we left. Climbing was juggled between the Sobel (climbing wall) and Avon Gorge before spring finally arrived and with it a renewed determination to give Britain my best shot. With my time in London came quasi membership of the North London climbing club and an opportunity to hang out at their hut in North Wales. Betws-y-Coed was a perfect location to explore the array of diversity that is Welsh cragging. Hard to remember all the details, but from Gogarth to Great Orme to Tremadog and Llanberis we had an absolute blast.
While we had been in the States the previous year, I'd come to know Alex and Jenny Lowe well. Towards the end of the Spring, they turned up in Britain, and together with Douggie, we took a flat in Sheffield for the summer. This was the start of an idyllic stretch of unbelievably good weather, where we were able to climb almost every day. We'd crank limestone classics in the morning on superb crags like High Tor then spend long summer evenings soloing across the gritstone edges of Stanage, Curbar and Burbage south.
Sometime in July we headed south on a Cornish/Devon road trip - the memories of which to this day are still vivid. Those days spent reading Mountain mag had left me with images of two oppressive and inspiring lines, Darkinbad the Brightdayler at Pentire Head and Il Duce at Tintagel. The most perfect day was spent repeating Darkinbad in the morning and Il Duce in the afternoon. It was the most surreal experience to top out on Tintagel in the middle of King Arthur's castle, amidst countless touristic hordes, followed soon after by scones, jam and clotted cream at the always-nearby cafe!
Back in Sheffield, itchy feet had us bussing north to Leeds where we set up camp in Gordale Scar. The Cave routes were both sombre yet awesome and again, the incredible diversity that was available in such a small area was reinforced by the future potential of Malham Cove.
The perfect summer was coming to an end as was the state of my meagre funds. As a last hurrah, Llanberis had to be visited. We spent a few amazing days ticking the classics on the Cromlech: Right Wall, Lord of the Flies, JR and others before heading up to Cloggy. We managed Great Wall as a warm up to harder things, whetting my appetite for more.
Back in Llanberis, the weather had started to turn and halfway up the Mot we were caught in an amazing storm. Sheltering under a small outcrop, we suddenly became aware of a rumbling, which soon turned into a roar. What seemed like half a hillside of mud and rocks avalanched over the top of our outcrop, almost bringing about the end of our promising lives! Shaken and stirred, we made it back to the café to tell the tale.
And to the last weekend in Wales - and for this trip in Britain, we headed back up to Cloggy to try A Midsummer Night's Dream. As you describe Andy, though in not nearly enough gory detail, I was high above some miserable bit of fixed tat before losing the plot and wallying off. As I plummeted south, Douggie calculated the inevitable and leapt from his belay ledge. There was no wedging between any rocks, meaning that we both ended up looking at each other, me upside down with my head 30cm from the ground and both of us laughing hysterically. Cloggy was definitely 1-0 to me.
Gladly, I've never felt the need to return. The next day, as a warm-down and to recover some confidence, we decided Strawberries at Tremadog was the go-to. Unfortunately that trip I also only managed to get to the last move. A few years later when I was working in Switzerland for Mammut, I managed to get back for a weekend and put that beauty to rest.
Now whilst you were undoubtedly 'Mr Arapiles' back Down Under for many years - and raised standards to 'international levels' with Ethiopia and others - I can empathise with your protracted tussle with one route above all others. What people referred to then as 'The Ring Route' due to the neat line of Mammut ring bolts ultimately proved your nemesis. Reason I say empathise is that I bolt-to-bolted it once to get the draws in and couldn't help but feel how you were so cruelly robbed as time and time again you'd cruise through all the hard stuff only to slip off within slapping distance of the chains. I bolt-to-bolted Punks in the Gym the next day and never returned to the rings – for which you'd already proposed the name Serious Young Lizards. Sadly Punks became my own 'effing b*stard route'. Geez, I could write a book on that darn epic. Oh hang on, I just have. Plug!
Yeah, The Ring Route aka Serious Young Lizards really proved a bridge too far. The astounding thing was, that I'd bolted this route in 1982, long before anyone thought this would even be possible, which meant that I spent a long time learning the moves and developing the strength and fitness needed for a route like this. There was a complete lack of other routes of this difficulty from where this fitness could be gained. Despite being able to climb every move in my sleep, I could never quite bring it together. I still remember my best effort. I'd been shopping in Horsham for the weekly groceries and my fingers were already strained from carrying the shopping bags, but I thought I'll just pop up and give it a go. It had been drizzling, but because the wall was so steep, the route remained basically dry. First shot, I managed to redpoint straight to the last hold, but promptly slipped off mantling onto the wet slab above. That was it..
Agh, No, that's so cruel Kim! Why on earth not one more try after a rest day?
So, you'd moved on by 1990 when I first lobbed in Natimuk and I think you were running the Mountain Designs shops and then over in Switzerland working for Mammut. If my timing's in the ball park it was probably yourself who passed on those reins to my 'bestie' Martin 'Basher' Atkinson and these days you bake artisan sourdough breads in Brisbane to...er...earn a crust. Here's your free plug:
Yes, these days I run a bakery – Wild Breads - supplying breads all over the world. Not really a lot different to climbing except the risk and stress factors are a little greater! Currently we are trying to break into the US market which is extremely challenging – maybe akin to Master's Wall…
My mischievous Kiwi mate Charlie Creese - whom you know, quipped whether the loaves wouldn't be stale upon arrival in America but I assured him it was the 'secret recipe' and name you were offering.
Well, that was brilliant Kim, many thanks indeed mate and let's close this out by not overlooking your way greater achievements such as the First Free Ascent of The Rostrum in Yosemite in 1985 – a significant milestone plucked from under the noses of the many locals who were attempting it plus your early repeats of far too many routes to name in Australia, elsewhere in the States, the Frankenjura and across France. Maybe save these stories for your autobiography eh?
Thanks heaps Kim, I reckon the UKC readership will greatly appreciate your re-appearance on the scene after what, 35 years?
OK, off to Woolies to buy my sourdough loaf.